On Friday, May 25, 1984, in a small town of 1200 people, in a small grocery store on the highway not too far from cornfields, at the golden age of 14, I became a comic book collector.
What set me on this path that has led me >choke< 27 years later to be a comics missionary, spreading the four-color gospel far and wide? Well, I blame Morgan Freeman and Jim Shooter.
I was just learning to read, as well as going through the “superhero phase” most young boys experience. So I got hooked on Spider-Man, and my mom actually bought me the first comic book I ever read! (Thanks, Ma!) As you can see on the cover, the Easy Reader (Morgan Freeman) gives his seal of approval, stating “This comic book is easy to read!” (The Comics Code approved it as well, but they’re as square as their seal.)
I would continue to enjoy Spider-Man throughout my childhood, taking my Spider-Man vitamins every day, and reading the daily comic strip whenever I had access to the Des Moines Register during my summers. (Their comics were much better than those in the Omaha World-Herald. The Register ran Star Trek, Asterix (!), Bloom County… and on Sundays we’d get the smaller market Sioux City Journal with the comics never seen in bookstores (Eek and Meek, Born Loser, Berry’s World).) But I never really bought comics as a kid. From 1979 until 1982, I was a fan of Mad Magazine, buying back issues and passionately learning all I could, pre-Internet, about The Usual Gang of Idiots. From 1982 until 1984, my passion was video games. While my family owned nothing more advanced than an old Coleco Telstar 6040 playing variations of Pong, that didn’t keep me from haunting arcades, searching for the new and unusual, and buying almost every videogame magazine I could find.
Of course, like most kids across the country, I read comic strips, bought the occasional strip collection, watched the CBS specials, and looked at any comic or cartoon (including the ones in my older brothers’ National Lampoons). I even glommed onto an old graphic novel from the 1950s… the first Pogo reprint from Simon and Schuster. When I was sick, I would read Richie Rich comics (the superhero covers at the pharmacy just made me sicker). But it was just part of the multimedia background collage of my life, with older interests constantly being covered by newer distractions.
So, given all this, what caused me to become a comics fan? What brought comics into the foreground, eclipsing my other interests? Junior High and Mattel toys.
My 14-year-old mind was gobsmacked at this story, which featured Marvel’s most powerful heroes buried underneath a mountain! (Please realize that I was a neophyte to the Mighty Marvel Manner of storytelling, having only read the occasional Marvel comic as a kid, and was mostly a fan of Mad Magazine. I became jaded a few years later, but in 1984, everything was Amazing, Uncanny, and Fantastic.)
But I wasn’t seduced completely with this issue. I didn’t immediately hike to the nearest 7-Eleven to see What Happens Next. I just filed it away, and continued with my main passion at the time: video games. (Oh, and girls, but there were no strategy guides for them, so much of that was of the “Game Over” variety, my ego wilting like a dead Pac-Man.)
My mother stopped for milk.
Since 1978, my family has spent our summers (and the occasional weekend) at our summer cabin located two hours northeast from Omaha, on a glacier lake in Sac County, Iowa. (The glacier is long gone, but it left a big hole which became known as Blackhawk Lake.) Since milk and other perishables don’t travel well over two hours, and take up space in the cooler, we would always stop at Bromley’s Foodland, located out on Highway 71 across from the high school. Bromley’s was a large supermarket, probably built in the 1950s. Unlike the other two grocery stores in town, it had a large two-tier magazine rack, including special pockets for comics located at eye level. While my mother shopped, I distracted myself by perusing the magazines. There, front and center amongst what had to be every comic published that month by DC and Marvel, was a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #254. Spider-Man was wearing a black costume, fighting an anonymous foe. (Fanboys would have assumed it was the Hobgoblin, but I had no assumptions. I hadn’t read Spider-Man regularly since the days of the Grizzly and the Jackal.) I had always known Spider-Man by his red-and-blue costume, and here he was in a new costume! A quick scan of the issue showed just what his new union suit could do, so I was hooked! Later that weekend, I discovered Marvel Tales had been reprinting the old Lee/Ditko stories, and What If? had a special Spider-Man issue. (BOY! Lookit that amazing Ditko cover! Spider-Man in silhouette/outline, the Molten Man glowing like a golden golem! Here’s the original.)
I’m stuck in New York this Memorial Day Weekend, but I know for a fact that my eight-year-old niece is at the lake, reading the Showcase copies of Wonder Woman I bought her at C2E2 last March. She’ll probably discover other interests when she becomes a teenager, but there’s a lot of manga she hasn’t read yet…